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KELLNER: Sound thinking can lead to audio bliss

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I've said this before, but it's worth repeating: There's a lot of worth in considering the impact of music on today's technology - and tomorrow's.

The Oct. 5 passing of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs highlighted the role music played in the revitalization of that firm's fortunes. It was the advent of iTunes and devices on which to play those tunes that may have firmly fixed Apple in the constellation of consumer must-haves. Others have noted it, and it's true: Mr. Jobs' vision of selling songs one at a time instead of by the album changed the music industry. Record labels weren't all that thrilled at the thought of breaking loose their song catalogs, or so the story goes, but several billion iTunes sales later, few are disappointed.

Indeed, this notion of selling individual songs has spawned a similar online music store from Amazon.com, which is successful in its own right. Google Inc. is said to be seeking an online music store of its own, probably to complement the Android mobile phones for which it provides the operating software. Microsoft, of course, has the Zune enterprise, which it hopes to revive somewhat with the latest iteration of its Windows Mobile smartphone software.

All these options are good for handheld and/or mobile users, but what about when we're not mobile? I've recently become fond of something called iHeartRadio, a so-far free online service from radio station colossus Clear Channel Communications that streams more than 750 stations to various handheld devices, the Sonos Wi-Fi radio and your nearest Web browser. Offerings include country music powerhouse WSIX-FM of Nashville, Tenn., which is notable for, among other things, offering a recording of "The Star Spangled Banner" at 8 a.m. Eastern time every day.

But whatever the source - your own digital music library or an online service - you've got to hear the music on something. One of my continuing favorites is the Sonos Play:5, originally the S5, a nice-sized system that sells for $399. Among its components: A five-driver speaker system, five digital amps, two tweeters, two midrange drivers and one bass driver. Translated into simpler language: The sound is stunning. You can control the Sonos system from a desktop computer, iPhone or iPad. If you're not using an Ethernet connection, you'll want the optional $49 "wireless bridge" to stream music from the Internet to your unit. Trust me, it's worth it.

Now, Sonos has come out with the Play:3, a smaller system that promises great sound for $299. I haven't tried this unit yet, but I have full confidence in this brand. You can view both items at your local Target, and, trust me, the sound is very much unlike what you think you'll find there.

If you're in a cubicle, as I am most days, having a good pair of headphones is an asset when one wants to listen to music, especially since "Bottoms Up" by Trey Songz isn't to everyone's liking. I'm quite fond of the Wicked 3D headphones, list price $29.99, from a unit of Empire Brands. The sound is very good, the headphones are comfortable even after being worn for a few hours, and the price certainly is right. Details soon online at http://wickedheadphones.com/.

Another nice boost for solo listening is the $69.99 SRS Labs iWOW-3D audio enhancement adapter, which is designed for Apple's iPhone, iPod and iPad. Plug it in, add the free application and press the button once your headphones are attached to the adapter. The sound is amazing, and you can find this device for about $35 at Amazon.com, making it an even better deal.

There are other products for greater audio enjoyment from portable and other devices. As the holiday buying season approaches, you'll read about other options here, so stay tuned.

E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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